The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor and Robert Wall
Updated March 13, 2016 7:14 a.m. ET
Nearly one year after a mentally unbalanced co-pilot intentionally brought down a Germanwings jetliner, regulators and pilot union leaders are continuing to spar over potential measures to prevent another such tragedy.
Despite a flurry of advisory committees, studies and high-level reports on both sides of the Atlantic, practically nothing has changed in the way commercial aviators are routinely screened for possible mental-health problems world-wide.
But with an international team of investigators having released its final report Sunday about Germanwings Flight 9525 and its 150 victims, the spotlight is shifting to various proposals favored by these experts.
The report, among other things, recommended enhanced pilot-to-pilot support programs, stepped-up medical evaluation of pilots with previously diagnosed psychological problems, and permitting European aviators to continue flying even as they start using certain antidepressants under a doctor’s care.
The French-led investigators also recommended rolling back existing medical privacy laws in Germany and throughout Europe to make it easier for physicians to alert authorities about pilots posing potential threats to public safety.
“We don’t want the system to remain as it is,” said Dirk Polloczek, president of the European Cockpit Association, which represents 38,000 pilots from 37 countries. “But we need to make smart changes and provide the right tools” to identify and deal with psychological risks, he said in an interview.
Most airlines, national aviation authorities and pilot groups agree that wholesale expansion of psychological testing for cockpit crews would be overly costly and likely ineffective. Such measures capture a pilot’s condition only as a snapshot in time, they argue, while many serious psychological problems can worsen dramatically and quickly.
Regulators “shouldn’t take the easy way by mandating” across-the-board expansion of psychological screening or random drug and alcohol testing in Europe, Mr. Polloczek said. “That would be more or less a placebo,” he added, primarily intended to satisfy public clamor for action.
Widespread screening efforts “are blunt and expensive instruments that would provide few benefits,” according to Martin Chalk, president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations. The Germanwings crash “initially sent shock waves” through the global pilot community, Mr. Chalk said in an interview, but now the emphasis ought to be on improving non-punitive airline assistance programs ensuring “some level of support before a problem manifests itself on the flight deck.”
Germany is moving to implement random drug and alcohol testing, even though the final report didn’t call for that step. Instead, the recommendations are expected to emphasize the importance of peer support groups.
But report that such groups are most effective only if aviators and their family members are “reassured that mental health issues will not be stigmatized, concerns raised will be handled confidentially” and that pilots will be assisted “with the aim of allowing them to return to flying duties.”
Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old Germanwings co-pilot, hid his worsening depression from airline officials and regulators because he feared it would definitely end his career, according to investigators.
The report cites 11 other airline accidents or incidents since the early 1980s that are considered to have been intentionally caused by pilots, or when one crew member was “significantly affected by a mental disorder.” Some include pilots locking themselves alone inside cockpits, as Mr. Lubitz did when the captain of Flight 9525 left for a bathroom break.
Carsten Spohr, the chief executive of Germanwings owner Deutsche Lufthansa AG, said lessons to be learned from the event are limited because of the unusual circumstances. “This very specific behavior of this individual could just not be foreseen,” he said.
In the wake of the crash, German authorities required all carriers to establish a voluntary program for pilots to report psychological problems without fear of retribution. According to Mr. Spohr, however, Lufthansa already had such processes in place.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has drawn up an array of other potential moves, including setting up a repository of pilot medical files to enable information sharing between European Union states while still preserving doctor-patient confidentiality. EASA also wants mandatory, in-depth psychological vetting of commercial pilots before they begin their careers, followed by more extensive mental-health checks during annual physicals.
German pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit has had a mixed response to regulatory initiatives over the past 12 months. It welcomed Germany’s peer-support mandate, but has come out forcefully against random drug testing. The union also has objected to calls from EASA to make sure there are two people in the cockpit at all times, even if it means a flight attendant temporarily replaces one of the pilots.
A spokesman for the German union said the concept might have been an understandable short-term measure, but it should be phased out because it has introduced new risks such as having cockpit doors remain open for longer periods. British Airways and some other European airlines have performed their own risk analyses, and opted against adopting the two-person cockpit rule.
In the U.S., where the Federal Aviation Administration convened a special industry-government committee to assess fallout from Germanwings, the response remains muted. No major regulatory changes are expected, according to people familiar with the panel’s recommendations. But the FAA likely will issue guidance aimed at helping smaller carriers set up more successful peer-support networks.
Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com
NTSB Identification: DCA15WA093
Accident occurred Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in Barcellonette, France
Aircraft: AIRBUS INDUSTRIE A320-211, registration:
Injuries: 150 Fatal.
The foreign authority was the source of this information.
The BEA of France has notified the NTSB of an accident involving a Airbus A320-211 airplane that occurred on March 24, 2015. The NTSB has appointed a U.S. Accredited Representative to assist the BEA's investigation under the provisions of ICAO Annex 13 as the State of Manufacturer and Design of the engines.
All investigative information will be released by the BEA-FR.